Hey (PDC) teacher, leave them kids alone. (Permaculture and the profit motive).

11 Comments

The Pink Floyd reference marks me out as an old timer, I know. I have resisted writing this post for a long time, I have tried to give everyone the benefit of the doubt to see where this thing is leading, but now I have finally lost faith in this permaculture “movement” and have come to the conclusion that the movement has been hijacked for financial gain, it’s normal, it happens with everything else, why should PC any different.

One of our most recent visitors had spent a month travelling around many leading PC centres in Thailand, one of his first observations was, “most of them go to the market everyday to buy food”. Unfortunately this is not uncommon, growing food is hard work, teaching a Permaculture Design Course and going to buy food with the money is a much easier idea. This happens a lot. This is not to say everyone is guilty of this, there is a lot of good work being done, by people of great integrity who truly believe in what they are doing.

A quick internet search would reveal that, just in Thailand, there are now probably 30 PDC’s per year that’s nearly three a month in more than ten different sites, plus dozens of related workshops, lots and lots of teaching and very little food growing. It is very competitive and every course seems to feature exceptional teachers in awesome locations and promises a life changing experience, it’s difficult not to be cynical.

These courses are not cheap!!! The quality of the teaching declines, good teachers, with years and years of experience, are crowded out by bad ones and the victims in all this are the poor kids who, not knowing any better,  sometimes fork out in excess of 700US for a PDC with teachers with little personal experience of food growing or permaculture in practice. For these reasons I have stopped calling what we do “permaculture”, I feel that permaculture is very often an empty word now, a bit like “boutique hotel” or “eco resort”, sounds good and attracts attention, but it does not mean very much anymore. I know this will be disputed by many, but this is what I see happening around me. I am waiting to be convinced I am wrong.

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Author: marco

growing food and making do with less

11 thoughts on “Hey (PDC) teacher, leave them kids alone. (Permaculture and the profit motive).

  1. a valuable observation, thanks for the brave words marco

  2. Interesting thoughts Marco. I’ve long wondered why Permaculture Design Courses were so expensive. Permaculture has always meant freedom to me and it seems counterintuitive that I’d need to pay $700 just to start down that path to freedom. I think you can start down that path much cheaper:

    Last year my girlfriend and I decided we wanted to learn more about self-reliant living, farming and the like. We decided to WWOOF in Japan. We went for 10 weeks, visiting 5 farms. The whole trip—flights, food, everything—cost 130,000 THB (or about 4,000 USD). That might go against my comment that $700 is a lot of money, but we got so much more from living with the families than we would have from a 3-day PDC.

    I think the key is to find places like Marco’s. Places where people are living the way you want to live and learn directly from them. You don’t need to have a certificate to farm a patch of ground and grow your own food.

    • Brad, I would say that a design course with a competent teacher, by which I mean someone with at least 10 yrs of personal experience, at the appropriate time in one’s development can be money well spent. Based on my own experience, I advise our volunteers to get as much practical experience as possible first, the PDC should be the culmination of one’s learning path, not the start. This would not fill 30 courses a year in Thailand though…

  3. Marco, what a timely post. I found it as part of my trawling through Thai permaculture websites looking for a good place for a Cambodian friend who wants to set up a small-scale demonstration farm as a way of leading Cambodian small farmers to more sustainable practices. Even from a distance, my conclusions were the same as yours. But then, I think that no matter what country one is in, pretty much the same thing is evident.

    Here in Australia it is clear that a lot of the people doing permaculture courses, or who have recently just done one, have $$ signs in their eyes but no real knowledge or experience. I did a PDC course a while back, after carefully researching the backgrounds of the teachers (including the current “leading” teacher in Australia) and finding only one who had credible experience, a practical approach, and was running a productive property. That course was fantastic, I learned a lot and I’m really glad I did it.

    Now I’m combining that knowledge with my background of having grown up on a small mixed farm, and what I’m learning as I produce (some of) our food on our own land, and 16 years of natural resource management in development aid in East and Southeast Asia (I usually learned more from the people I worked with than I was able to impart to them, though over time I realised that I was “carrying” their lessons from one group to another).

    Getting back to my reasons for trawling through Thai websites: my wife and I had arranged a program in Australia for our Cambodian friend which included the same PDC that I did, an internship on that property, and an internship on a small but successful organic market gardening operation. The proprietors of both had agreed to sponsor him fully, with no course fees and board and accommodation covered. Now the Australian government has refused him a tourist visa because the regard Cambodia as a high risk for visa overstaying and he did not meet their criteria (though to refuse him they used criteria that are nowhere stated in their documentation) and there is no right of appeal.

    So, what I’m looking at doing is travelling with him in Cambodia, Laos and Northern Thailand as a “permaculture guide”, but it’s proving difficult to find places which will offer positive examples of permaculture in practice.

    Would you be interested in having us work with you some time in the period November – January? I can’t be more specific because this is all being arranged at very short notice and I’m only at the beginning of formulating a plan. As you can see from the above, I have practical hand-on experience (you could have a look at our website: http://www.lockyervalley.org) and Sokha has raised his own cattle and fish, and grown rice and other crops on the land of his parents and parents-in-law.

  4. I’m so happy to read that post. I’m working on a website named Permaculture Reviews (fully operational soon) where people can explain and share their experiences about everything in Permaculture from classes, courses, tools, software, experiences, books, consultant, webs and other stuffs because same as you I think there is a lot of use in the definition of Permaculture. But don’t stop your project to be called Permaculture, it deserves all the meaning of the word.

  5. Hey Marco,
    This post rings very true to our experiences with thai “permaculture” thus far. We took a course for about $750, for three weeks. When we got there, the only things being harvested from the garden were occasional papaya and some chile. We were super disappointed. Needless to say, this has left us with a bad taste in our mouth for “permaculture” farms, and after doing more research, we’re finding that a lot of farms we thought were legit, are actually… not.
    My partner and I really want to get some experience with this stuff. That’s why we flew half-way across the globe. After seeing this post, it seems like you’d be the man to talk to about real, ethical, healthy projects.

    Our visa is running out soon here, and we’re planning on checking out Vietnam. Looks like we can stay about 3 months there on one visa. However, we’re having a lot of trouble finding a good place to contact about volunteering. Have you heard of any projects in the area that are doing good things and need help? We’re not rich, but we don’t mind paying a fee if it is necessary for the community. We just really want to get our hands dirty and gain some experience. We’re also interested in visiting Cambodia or Laos, in no particular order.

    Anyway, I hope we can share a dialogue over this subject, and thanks for the post. It’s reassuring to hear someone with an established project speaking out about the permaculture financial phenomenon.

    Hope to hear from you, feel free to reply at Jakecoch12 @ gmail.com.

    Jake and Beth.

  6. Very good and timely post. When I search this is the only thing critical review of PDC courses in Thailand. I think ppl need to be more open and honest. What are some tips to help ppl choose the right course? I suppose a start would be checking how much food they grow rather than buy. If they can’t manage that, it’s difficult to see how they can call themselves permaculture farms.

    • Thank you for visiting the blog and for taking the time to comment. I would say that the most important aspect is the teacher and the culture of the institution where the course is taking place. Food growing is also important from the point of view of healthy eating, as in Thailand it is not easy to find genuinely organic food.

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